The first WorldTour one-day race of the 2023 season is upon us, featuring 14 teams of which 11 are WorldTour level. The last time the biggest Australian one-day race, with its equally long name, happened was in 2020. It is one of the few WorldTour races on the calendar that has optional participation for WorldTour teams, so teams like Jumbo-Visma and Groupama-FDJ have already headed back to Europe after the Tour Down Under. Australians including Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan and Jay Vine are some of the favourites to win the race, however, in its short history, the only Australian to have won the Cadel Evans Race is Jay McCarthy, who was victorious in 2018.
Provisional Start List
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The parcours suit many types of riders. A climber, puncheur or strong sprinter has a realistic shot to win. Jay Vine, Mauro Schmid and Michael Matthews fit those different types and this course offers all of them a good chance to win. In the 174 kilometres route there is only 1666 metres of elevation but the hardest hills are included in the second part of the race and close to the finish in Geelong.
Challambra Crescent (0.9 km, 8.9%) will be the hardest hill at 0.9 km of 8.9% gradient and will be completed four times. It is around a two minutes climb but is hard enough to cause massive splits in the peloton particularly if UAE launch the climb with their punchy squad – Finn Fisher Black took the KOM on a recon ride this morning. Right after it follows another punchy hill – Melville (0.6 km, 8.3%).
In the past, the race in honour of the Tour de France winner Cadel Evans has been won by various types of riders like Dries Devenyns, Elia Viviani and Jay McCarthy. The South African Daryl Impey even finished third three times in a row. He will also start this weekend in his final year in the peloton, but his performance in Santos Tour Down Under does not suggest an ability to replicate his past success.
In the betting markets, Michael Matthews is the big favourite, followed by Caleb Ewan, Marc Hirschi, Mauro Schmid, Simon Yates, Jay Vine, Magnus Sheffield and Corbin Strong. Climbers like Yates and Vine who performed exceptionally well in the Santos Tour Down Under a week ago and are in great shape are not the biggest favourites but looking at how the 2020 race played out, where Dries Devenyns and Pavel Sivakov, both climbers, sprinted for a victory when the route was practically the same, maybe the climbers this year have been a little bit underrated.
Challambra Crescent (0.9 km, 8.9%) might not seem that challenging but its combination with Melville (0.6 km, 8.3%) right after makes this course harder than expected and gives little respite to the riders in the finale. Four loops are enough to completely shatter the race and give climbers like Vine, Yates and O’Connor a good chance to win. Vine already proved in Santos Tour Down Under that he is strong enough to make splits and ride away from the peloton even on stages with a single hard climb. Vine has performed well on shorter races/stages such as in the Tour Down Under so maybe this race of around four hours duration might be even better for him. The main impediment for Vine to win is his sprinting ability. There is a high chance if he successfully attacks that Yates or other riders will be on his wheel. The hills are not hard enough for him to just ride away but still hard enough to make a difference against sprinters. There is a decent chance that Vine will initiate the winning move but will finish 2nd or 3rd in a small group sprint for the win or perhaps he bucks that trend and wins the sprint too.
Magnus Sheffield already proved he is great in hilly races and won Brabantse Pijl in 2022 with an impressive performance. The American super-talent is in good shape as he finished 4th in Santos Tour Down Under. His teammates Luke Plapp and Ethan Hayter also might do well on Sunday and INEOS have multiple cards to play. Plapp and Sheffield can play a more attacking role while Hayter sits in the bunch and waits for the sprint.
There are multiple sprinters here who can get over hills at a decent pace such as Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan, Corbin Strong, Emīls Liepiņš, Hugo Page and Jordi Meeus. Matthews has a 20-25% chance to win according to bookmakers and he climbs well. But can he win? If the assumption above is right regarding Vine and Yates, then the climbers will be strong enough to drop them and gain a big enough gap to win. Matthews is likely to finish high but even if a climbing group is brought back, he might lose a sprint because everyone will be looking at him and force him to close gaps like in the Australian National Championships Road Race – there he lost in the sprint for second to Simon Clarke.
Versatile riders such as Alberto Bettiol, Mauro Schmid, Sven Erik Bystrom, Alessandro Covi, and Simon Clarke must be happy with this course. If Bettiol gets a gap he might be strong enough to solo to the victory like in Ronde van Vlaanderen 2019 or the hilly circuit of the Giro d’Italia 2021 Stage 18. Bettiol’s sprint is also strong enough to win from a reduced bunch. He finished second behind Bryan Coquard in an uphill finish in Santos Tour Down Under.
The race will be aggressive and too hard for sprinters like Strong and Liepiņš. The climbers will up the tempo on the climbs and four laps are enough, particularly with UAE’s strong squad. Sheffield showed multiple strong performances in 2022 and is currently in good shape. He will make the leading group which will consist of 4-10 riders and after that, the future Tour de France winner will go solo like in Brabantse Pijl.